Gas and electricity often grab the headlines when it comes to utility bills, but water consumption is another significant issue for the licensed trade.
In an industry where every margin counts, could now be the time to seek out a better deal?
Commercial water suppliers told SLTN there can be real cost savings for firms willing to seek out the best deals and make a change.
James Cardwell-Moore, director of sales and marketing at Business Stream, the commercial arm of Scottish Water, said the introduction of competition to the Scottish water market in 2008 has had a “hugely positive impact” on businesses across Scotland.
“A competitive market gives businesses choice and the opportunity to find the water supplier that best matches their needs,” said Cardwell-Moore.
With 13 firms currently offering water services to Scottish businesses, Cardwell-Moore suggested operators do some research and consider changing supplier.
“We would encourage businesses to look at what their requirements are and to explore the range of services offered and find the best supplier for them,” he said.
Stewart Yardley of Clear Business Water agreed that operators should consider making a switch, adding that there are a number of key factors to address.
“The main question that should be asked is, ‘am I currently paying more than I could if I switched?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ then simply switch,” said Yardley.
“It is much, much more straightforward than most people believe it to be.
“Companies have teams of people just to deal with switching customers over from other suppliers in order to make the process as easy as possible.”
Clear Business Water advises business owners to “go where the savings are”, Yardley said.
He claimed the switching process “typically won’t take more than 15 minutes of your time”.
Price isn’t the only reason businesses change their water supplier, according to Hugh Brown of Cobalt Water, who said there are examples of customers who are “simply dissatisfied with the level of customer service they receive from their current supplier or require a more personalised level of service”.
One area of customer service was universally agreed to be important: the need to work with customers to reduce waste at their premises.
Tony McHardy, sales director at United Utilities Scotland, said the right supplier “will work with you to help you to use less water”.
Cardwell-Moore of Business Stream agreed, adding that “business can save money by better understanding their water use”.
The Business Stream director said that innovation in the water industry has been “critical” in this regard and highlighted automated meter readers (AMRs) in particular as an innovation that allows “pubs, restaurants and hotels to better track their water consumption”.
Castle Water chief executive John Reynolds echoed Cardwell-Moore’s praise for AMRs, but said Scotland has been slow to adopt the technology, despite the benefits.
“[AMRs] can be of value to customers who benefit from monitoring water usage (high water usage, or vulnerable to leaks),” said Reynolds.
“Some suppliers, including Castle Water, will fit an AMR free for customers who will benefit from it.”
Yardley of Clear Business Water agreed that AMRs can have a “hugely beneficial impact for water customers” in the trade, as these businesses can have their finances disproportionately exposed should anything go wrong with their water supply.
“Due to the higher usage volumes the amount of wastage can quickly get out of hand should a pipe burst but given the increased frequency of manual reads afforded by AMR, problems are identified and addressed much more promptly,” said Yardley.
It’s not just new meters that can save water. Iain Clark, of Commercial Water Solutions, said modern glass and dishwashers that use less water or recycle more can help to cut bills in the long run.
Clark also highlighted the gents toilet as an area where water savings can be made.
“Putting timers onto urinals so they flush less often, particularly during closed hours, or switching to waterless urinals [can reduce waste],” said Clark.
Alan Munro of Thames Water Commercial Services agreed that it’s important for operators to “better manage water usage” and said that when done right, this can “help improve energy consumption and reduce costs on other utilities”.
Part of this water management should fall to the supplier, who should offer operators advice to help keep bills down, said Munro.
“We can help to encourage better housekeeping, through staff training and increased awareness on water consumption, which can have a huge impact on the amount of water a business uses,” said Munro.
McHardy, of United Utilities Scotland, said staff training is essential for water management.
He said it is “best practice to educate staff on areas such as not leaving taps running and only filling the kettle with the amount of water you need”.
Clark, of Commercial Water Solutions, added that “the customer should take some responsibility for their water usage including regular checks of taps and toilets to ensure they are not dripping”.
Operators planning to switch supplier should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and do a bit of research before signing with a new supplier, suggested Castle Water boss Reynolds.
He advised licensees to take advantage of the support offered by industry regulator the Water Industry Commission for Scotland at scotlandontap.com.
The website allows operators to view and contact suppliers who can offer a quote and “handle all the mechanics of switching”, said Reynolds.
Although the firms and the regulator may make it easier to switch, Reynolds warned that operators should still treat the move like any other new deal and read everything carefully.
“Customers should always remember they are entering a contract, not just accepting a price,” he said.
“The different terms and conditions from different suppliers vary widely.
“Customers should make sure
they have seen the full terms and conditions before signing up to a deal and had the opportunity to discuss anything they don’t fully understand – some contracts aren’t what they first appear.”